Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Review: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Let see, few things I want to address before getting to the review :) First, a little reminder about Saturday's Week-End's Mini feature. The poll is up on the sidebar and open till tonight, 11.59pm! So if you haven't vote, please do so!

Second, I've made some changes to the blog layout :) Most noticeable is the background LOL. I loved the previous background, but if you had a too big screen, you ended up with the background running out and a chunk of white on each side of the screen ^_^; Plus, I had the previous background for a year or more already and felt it was time for a little change. I've also tweaked the colors, but otherwise, most of the blog remains unchanged. Let me know if there's any bugs or things I should work on or change! Thanks!

Now, onto the review! As I mentioned in my last Hauling Sunday post, I've read Ms Eulberg first two releases, The Lonely Hearts Club and Prom & Prejudice, and enjoyed them. However, I wasn't sure I would pick up Take a Bow right away because it was a hardcover... And when you see the difference in sizes for the hardcover and paperback, you wonder if the hardcover price is really justified ^_^; So I was going to try to wait a year for the paperback release - have I made it, I think it would have been a miracle LOL. Anyway, I was lucky to come across a copy of Take a Bow... and I LOVED IT!!! I loved it soooo much that I needed my own copy and therefore, ordered one. And now, I'm going to share my love with you all! Are you ready? :P

Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
published by Scholastic in April 2012
Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business. For Sophie, a singer, it's been great to be friends with Emme, who composes songs for her, and to date Carter, soap opera heartthrob who gets plenty of press coverage. Emme and Ethan have been in a band together through all four years of school, but wonder if they could be more than just friends and bandmates. Carter has been acting since he was a baby, and isn't sure how to admit that he'd rather paint than perform. The Senior Showcase is going to make or break each of the four, in a funny, touching, spectacular finale that only Elizabeth Eulberg could perform.
Genre: YA, contemporary
Series: None

The Story: The following summary is quite detailed. I wouldn't say there are spoilers per se, but it gives you a better idea of what's going on. If that's what you want, then read on :) If not, skip to the review section! 

Take a Bow follows the life of four teens - Carter, Sophie, Ethan and Emme - as they navigated their senior year at the New York City High School of the Creative and Performing Arts (CPA). Every year of high school is important, but senior year even more so because everything seems to be at stake: their futures, careers, love lives and friendships...

Carter Harrison was a child actor who became big with the Kavalier Kids movies franchise. Afterwards, he became the basic go-to kid for cute for all the big movies, Oscar presentations, etc. When the roles started to dwindle down, Carter decided he wanted to go to high school and try being normal. However, high school didn't turn out to be as he expected and he is still trying to figure out who the real Carter Harrison is. One thing Carter's sure of is that he no longer wants to be an actor... but how will the people around him react when he tells them he wants to pursue arts?

In contrast to her boyfriend Carter, Sophie Jenkins has always known what she wants to be: a singer superstar. When she auditioned for CPA, she had it all planned out: attend CPA, also have her best friend Emme who's a great songwriter enrolled, land all the lead roles, get the most coveted spot in the Senior Showcase and then, get a record contract by the time she graduates. However, things didn't go as she planned, what with all the good roles going to her nemesis, Sarah Moffitt. As a result, senior year is Sophie's last chance to get noticed and she's more determined than ever... no matter what the cost is.

Ethan Quinn is a genius when it comes to composing music and writing song and is considered the best at CPA. He's also the lead man in Teenage Kicks - a rock band that was formed with Emme Connelly, Jack Coombs, Ben McWilliams, all fellow students in music composition at CPA, on their first day of freshman year. For shy Ethan, being the lead man in the band was hard and it had a tumultuous effect on his relationship with his girlfriend and his music. After a dressing down by Emme, Ethan has gathered himself and is walking the straight line. He's desperate to prove to Emme that he has changed, for their friendship to be back on track... And with college looming ahead, he wants Emme to know his love for her and for them to be together.

Emme Connelly knows senior year is going to be busy and stressful with school work, band practice, the Senior Showcase and auditions for colleges. Her dream is to make it to Julliard. Luckily for her, Ethan is always there to encourage her. However, he's set a condition for her in order to use his studio to record her pre-audition CD: to sing her own songs. When Emme is invited to audition for the Senior Showcase as a singer - a very high honor, it doesn't go down well with Sophie... and it makes Emme realizes who are her true friends, the ones who always had her back. With friendships, love and her future at stakes, it's time for Emme to stand up for herself and step up to the plate.

My Opinion: Going into Take a Bow, I have to admit I wasn't too sure what to expect, because the blurb is a bit vague. Also, while I enjoyed Ms Eulberg's previous books, I had some apprehension due to the blurb because I'm not a fan of high school drama and it seems inevitable in the story... And indeed, there was some echoes of high school drama, but it definitively wasn't the focus of Take a Bow. I felt the book was more about friendships, their dreams and their journey :)

So I really, really enjoyed and loved Take a Bow :) However, to be frank, I'm having finding the right words for this review - this is my third attempt ^_^; It's hard to put it into words because as soon as I started reading Take a Bow, it just felt right and I was sucked in the story. I really liked how the book opens with the four characters awaiting for their audition to CPA. We get a brief introduction to each character, but also a feel of their personalities and their aspirations. More importantly though, it immediately sets the tone of the book and introduces the readers to the reality of their world. Then, fast-forward four years and Carter, Sophie, Ethan and Emme are about to start their senior year... and that's when the story really starts :)

Now, when I think of Take a Bow, three elements come to mind: the characters, the friendships and the setting. To me, it's the combination of the three that made Take a Bow such a winner :) I'll start with the easiest for me: the setting. I really liked that CPA was not a regular high school, because for me, it added another layer of complexity, set Take a Bow apart from most contemporary YA books and made it more interesting. Why? Because most students attending CPA are passionate about their arts, know what they want in their future and are already on the path of achieving it. Singing, writing music, dancing... these are not hobbies for them, it's their livelihoods. And I find admirable that they commit to it at such a young age. And it definitively was a commitment. Otherwise, why audition each semester simply to remain at CPA and then, audition for roles or spots in productions and showcases and actually perform? The auditions and the competition also contributed to make the characters tougher and more mature... It felt like a totally different world to me while still remaining a contemporary book and feeling real. So the setting was definitively key for me here :)

When it comes to the characters, I have to command Ms Eulberg for coming up with interesting, layered characters, but also for her writing since Take a Bow is told from four different POVs and each had a very distinct voice. Also, it was great to be privy to all four's thoughts and emotions and it definitively  made the book stronger. Another kudo to Ms Eulberg for the intricate ways all four storylines connected and intersected each other :) Sometimes, when you read a book with multiple POVs, it feels a bit clunky, the change of POVs too abrupt... But in the case of Take a Bow, it flowed really well and it did feel like I was reading one book and not four stories. Oups, got a little carried away LOL. Back to the characters. I absolutely loved Carter, Emme and Ethan, they were great, real and so lovable!! I liked how Carter was so down-to-earth when it came to his fame, his acting career and his talent. He was just a nice guy, trying to figure out who was the real Carter Harrison and in no way was he spoiled or arrogant. I think it speaks very loudly of Carter's personality and the way he was raised. What I liked the most though was Carter's journey throughout the book, the growth and the maturity he gained. I liked that he realized that nobody was pushing him to be an actor, that all these years, he's misread his mother's behavior and action. She wasn't pushing him to be a superstar; she wanted him to be happy. I thought for him to walk away from acting to pursue his passion was both brave and wise. Emme, I loved Emme!! At first, she appeared to be shy and not confident, but the inner strength this girl has! I also loved her loyalty to her friends, even if someone might not have deserved it... and that part of Emme really made me connect with her. I've been in Emme's shoes where I knew I was being manipulated and used... But at the same time, it's hard to give up such a friendship that was so dear to you. Even then, Emme never stooped to the level of being mean or wanting revenge... And I loved seeing Emme coming out of her shell and gaining confidence. As for Ethan, I have to admit that I had some doubts at first. The guy definitively made some mistakes... But once you see the way he stood by Emme, always being there for her, loving her... He definitively redeemed himself. You can't help but loving him and root for him! And I believe that with Emme, he won't repeat the same mistakes. He has someone to ground him... Finally, there's Sophie. She was made to be the villain of the book and therefore is not very likable... and yes, in some ways, her character is a bit stereotypical. However, it doesn't make her character less real. What I liked is that Ms Eulberg didn't backtrack at the end, redeeming her character. Sophie is the way she is and does not change. I'm sure she did consider Emme as her best friend when she was younger, but truth is, the most important person to Sophie is herself. Even when she was dating Carter, she was already imagining their breakup - just before her launching her first release ^_^; Everything she did was to achieve superstardom and that's what mattered to her. In a way, you have to admire her determination and her will... even though she's going about it the wrong way.

Finally, the friendships. I loved, loved the many friendships in Take a Bow. The chemistry and bond between the members of Teenage Kicks is the friendship that stands out the most for me. How Ethan, Emme, Jack and Ben (by the way, Jack and Ben were great, great secondary characters!!) formed an unit and had each other's backs. The support the boys gave Emme, how everyone was happy for each other when accepted in the college of their choices, etc. Carter envied Emme for the band friendship and I did too :P I also enjoyed the budding friendship between Emme and Carter; how good a listener Emme was and her encouragements to Carter. Also, how Carter was there for Emme. Even the brittle friendship between Sophie and Emme... In this case, it felt like the two girls just grew apart and this happens so often in high school. Sometimes, you have to let go even if it's hard... I have a feeling Ms Eulberg wanted to write about friendships at different states and how they affect one's life and she did a great job. I also very much loved the romance between Emme and Ethan and I liked how Ms Eulberg focused on theirs, that she didn't feel obligated to give everyone a love story. Emme and Ethan had such a chemistry, they knew each other so well. Seriously, they were a great match and it was very heart-warming to see them finally get together :P Friends to lovers theme lovers, you're going to like this one :)

Take a Bow was almost the perfect contemporary YA for me... but it wasn't because of two things. The first is I wished we've seen a bit more of Emme's feelings towards Ethan throughout the book. I loved how it ended, the way they get together... Emme's declaration that she's had feelings for Ethan for a long time... and how she didn't need to figure them out while Ethan had a girlfriend, etc. was really perfect. However, throughout Take a Bow, we read about Ethan's feelings for Emme and understood where it came from. But I don't feel the same way for Emme. What she said definitively made sense and I know it was genuine.  Perhaps she didn't want to acknowledge her feelings and therefore that's why we didn't get more... but I thought it came a little bit out of the blue ^_^; My second is wishful thinking on my part: I wanted Take a Bow to be longer. I loved everything about it, but I can't help but think that if it was longer, the book would be more completed and perhaps, we'd get more development for Emme's feelings for Ethan :P Seriously though, I think Ms Eulberg should consider writing slightly longer book :)

My Grade: A-. I really enjoyed Take a Bow and am recommending it to everyone :) It officially became one of my all-time favorite YA novels and have propelled Ms Eulberg onto my auto-buy author list :P I hope everyone who gives it a go enjoys it as much as I did :)

PS - Ouf, this was a long review! LOL.